April 12, 2009
The Deal: The Dead Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart team up with Warren Haynes and Jeff Chimenti to kick off its first tour in five years.
The Good: From the moment you set foot in the parking lot, it feels like the old days. Shakedown Street the aisles of vendors selling jewelry, food and assorted glassware is back up and running and the vibe is friendly all over. The stage was set up with one large and two small circles over it the larger screen having brief space images or a signature lightning bolt running through it. The energy was electric as the band hit the stage and drummer Kreutzmann simply smiled and gave the crowd a thumbs up.
The first set of the night was a conglomerate of signature Dead phrases and songs that, in some ways, summed up the band's career. From the opening "The Music Never Stopped" to the "we used to play for silver, now we play for life" of "Jack Straw"; the meaning behind "He's Gone" that flowed into "Touch of Grey" and its chorus of "We will get by, We will survive"; to the Dead mantra of "I Need a Miracle" and ending with "Truckin'" and its notable line, "What a long strange trip it's been."
This was a toned down band from the one that toured in 2004 on the "Wave that Flag" tour with Haynes. On that tour, Haynes was a focal point of the night, handling a lot of the singing and a good bit of the guitar work. On this night, he was simply filling up some space and doing his share, not standing out from the pack. He sang a good bit of "Touch of Grey" and had his share of vocals in the second set on "Shakedown Street" and "All Along the Watchtower," but it didn't feel like an overwhelming position for him to be in.
The second set of the night was a good mixture of classic and obscure Dead. From the opening "Shakedown" to a fantastic cover of "Watchtower" the band then went in a more obscure direction with "Caution" leading into the usual Drums/Space jams. The drums section was fantastically rhythmic as Kreutzmann held his groove and Hart hammered away. They seem to have lost a bit of the crowd with the more spacey end of the jam before kicking into "Cosmic Charlie" and getting the crowd back on its feet. "Charlie" also featured some excellent slide guitar work from Haynes.
An obscure "New Potato Caboose" was another sample of the band's long history before they kicked off the triple-threat of "Help on the Way," "Slipknot" and "Franklin's Tower." The band stepped off to the side of the stage after the set wound up, before Lesh came out to do his usual reminder about organ donation. They then wrapped up the night with a solid version of "Samson and Delilah."
This was a Dead show through and through the band was as tight as they've ever been, the crowd was on their feet dancing in the aisles and swimming in a sea of pot smoke for the entire show and, usually, louder than the band in singing all of the words. Sure there were moments when things calmed down for the Space jam and "New Potato Caboose" but for the most part, it felt a lot like the old days.
The Bad: No matter what the band does at this point, there will always be detractors saying, "It's not the Grateful Dead, because Jerry Garcia died." To them, I would say, "It's The Dead, not The Grateful Dead. You go to celebrate the music and remember the good times." There was also one slight hiccup in the night when Weir forgot a line to the song, "I Need a Miracle," but after more than 40 years and so many songs, I think all is forgiven.
The Verdict: I've seen the band in various incarnations over the years The Grateful Dead, The Other Ones, The Dead, Phil Lesh & Friends, Ratdog and have to say this is the closest they've ever sounded, and the closest the "vibe" has ever been at a show since the passing of Jerry. A truly memorable show.
The Music Never Stopped>
Touch Of Grey>
I Need A Miracle>
All Along The Watchtower>
New Potato Caboose>
Help On The Way>
Samson And Delilah